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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Crippled Cruise Ship Comes into Port; Pistorius Charged with Premeditated Murder; Carnival CEO Quick to Apologize; Meteor Shower in Russia Injures 500

Aired February 15, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That is the sound of relief.

Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin live in Mobile, Alabama. What a morning it is here in Alabama for so many thousands of people. Soledad is off today.

New overnight, 4,229 people slowly making their way home after being stuck on board this cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico for five very long days. We will tell you this morning about their nightmare and the horrific conditions they endured on board this boat, Triumph, just over my shoulder.

BERMAN: Plus, an Olympic champion breaks down in court and a big development this morning. Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius will be charged with premeditated murder.

Also, while you were sleeping, a meteor shower brings down shattering glass and injuring at least 500 people. The latest on the fireball from the skies. We will be live from Russia, coming up.

BALDWIN: There is a lot going on for you on this Friday morning. It is Friday, February 15th, and a special edition of STARTING POINT begins right now.

BERMAN: Good morning, thank you so much for being with us. The cruise nightmare is nearing its end this morning as thousands of people finally begin their journey home.

BALDWIN: What a journey it is. We're in Mobile just in front of the Carnival cruise line Triumph where hours ago this cruise pushed by those four tug boats making sure this thing was in line as it pulled here into the port in Mobile. A steady stream of more than 4,000 people finally got off all relieved to be off the listing, the stinking ship after enduring brutal conditions here for five long days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: It was the sound passengers waited five agonizing days for, the horn, signaling the Carnival Triumph had finally arrived in port. Cheers ending days of misery.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy to be home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wonderful to be home.

BALDWIN: Passengers headed to a hot shower and warm bed. Leaving their well documents vacation from hell behind, many heaping praise on the crew in the process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They served us with smiles and served us in ways that are truly unthinkable.

BALDWIN: As unthinkable as this, the now infamous red bags used in place of nonworking toilets. But nothing compared to this video, that squishy sound is a urine-soaked carpet. Some of the scenes looked like refugee camps, with makeshift beds set up anywhere there was fresh air, in halls, on deck, even by the pool. And then there were the food lines and the spaghetti tangle of cell phone cords.

And as the ship came into sight from a CNN helicopter, a call for help, an SOS and the most heartwarming scene of the trip, a valentine, fashioned out of life vests. As they finally left their nightmare behind, some took a souvenir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, Carnival for taking your bathrobe, I did not pay for this, but figured they owed me.

BALDWIN: And many seem ready to do it again, at least someday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to keep my feet on land for a little while. But if you get a free seven-day cruise, how can you pass that up, right?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Now, as part of the competition, because we thank CEO went out and apologized. They are offering hotel rooms so they could get a good night sleep before they go home. Carnival cruise lines booked the entire Holiday Inn right here in Mobile, Alabama, for many weary passengers to stay the night before heading home. And that's where we find Victor Blackwell, that hotel. I was leaving my hotel room a couple of hours ago. A lot of crew members leaving. They were relieved. I can only imagine how passengers feel.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The passenger, there are some here. But we just saw about 25 minutes ago, a bus full of crew members from the Triumph come here. This is the Holiday Inn. We have been -- it's an early morning and a late night. Miller Williams and Viren Mody is here with us. He manages the Wingate. What was the reaction of those cruise members?

MILLER WILLIAMS, GM, HOLIDAY INN: They looked like they wanted to get a shower, food, and go to bed.

BLACKWELL: Everything we heard, the crew was extraordinary. There is something special that you are doing for the crew members because they were special to the passengers.

VIREN MODY, MANAGER, WINGATE: What we did, normally our breakfast starts at 6:00 a.m., because we knew they were coming, we got our crew here early and we were already with hot food for them since 4:00 a.m. and this morning.

BLACKWELL: Hot food, hot showers, warm beds, and we know there are more buses en route here, and around here about 130 rooms between the two hotels. Thank you very much. And I'm sure the crew members and passengers are grateful as well. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Let's talk to some of those passengers. Victor Blackwell, thank you very much. There are amazing stories out here, but this is one that might take the cake. Talk about bachelorette parties. This was supposed to be a bachelorette party for Crystal Roderick here. She is about to get married, congratulations, almost to Kyle, Bethany and her husband are also joining us. We keep hearing stories. Good morning, first of all. Is it good morning, good evening, have we slept?

CHRYSTAL RODERICK, WAS STRANDED ON THE CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: It all runs together.

BALDWIN: It all runs together. Let me ask you, since you are the one about to get hitched. Is there a bachelorette do over party in your future?

RODERICK: I would say yes. It won't be on a boat.

BALDWIN: You will ever be on a boat again?

RODERICK: Probably not.

BALDWIN: Probably not. Let's begin with all of the different tough, tough parts of the very long five days, was it the smoke you saw on Sunday? Was that the low point for you? Or something worse?

RODERICK: I think it was going the entire time like all day Sunday and hearing different rumors spreading around the boat, not having the coast guard there.

BETHANY NUTT, WAS STRANDED ON THE CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: The uncertainty.

RODERICK: And you get scared. You get scared and not having lights. It gets dark at night. You don't know how dark it's going to get. You don't know how dark it will get.

BALDWIN: Bethany, you were saying the uncertainty. The uncertainty of what specifically?

NUTT: We were -- if we were going to get home, if we would make it off the boat. The boat was leaning, they weren't telling us exactly what was going on. They just said we had a situation that was under control. So we were just waiting in limbo for hours, just, you know, trying to figure out piece by piece what was going on. BALDWIN: I have to tell you, your tone is so different this morning than when we chatted yesterday on my show. You were upbeat, optimistic. Is it exhaustion? Reality sinking in you can never get the five days back?

NUTT: Yes. It's a whole lot of exhaustion. Up there we were pumped with anxiety, getting off. And now it's like back to reality and just hitting the exhaustion, the tiredness, the relation inflation of what just happened. So it's all -- I don't know. It feels like we were on there for months.

BALDWIN: Kyle, your dear fiancee on this boat, how worried were you?

KYLE NUTT, FIANCEE WAS STRANDED ON CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: I was worried after Monday's call and not getting a call for three days. It kind of worried me a lot more because the last time we spoke was on Monday and I got to speak to her again on Thursday, and the time delay between being able to talk to her, see what's really going on, is what hurt me the most. We were just sitting at home, just like everybody else.

BALDWIN: What were you thinking was happening?

KYLE NUTT: I knew somebody had it under control, but we didn't know what was going on. First they wanted to take them to Mexico, then bringing here. Waiting to hear answers of what was really going on is what bothered me the most.

BALDWIN: We know the CEO of Carnival got on board at some point to say this in person apology. Have you been specifically very irked by Carnival. Is the apology good enough?

BRENT NUTT, WIFE WAS STRANDED ON CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: I don't know. I don't think so. They never got it powered until the trip pretty much ended. They decided to bring in generators the last day of the voyage. Why couldn't those generators there a little bit sooner? They were in the dark, all of that. Dom in, the lights are all on and stuff, it's like why didn't you do that a little sooner? They were having good food the last day on there. Why couldn't they have good food throughout the trip? They could have gotten generators to there. They got coast guard and tug boats and all that out there.

BALDWIN: A lot of valid questions, and I'm seeing you shake your head. A lot of people not OK with the apology from the CEO. A little later, we'll talk about if there is legal resource. There's a lot of fine print when you get on a cruise. We'll talk about that later. Good luck with your non-cruising bachelorette party 2.0. My thanks to all of you, and I hope you can get home safely and soundly and catch up on sleep. Thank you all very much.

What an ordeal, John Berman. Can you imagine?

BERMAN: I cannot. What an ordeal indeed, Brooke.

While everyone else was sleeping, there was some really big news overnight, a meteor shower injuring at least 500 people. This is not a movie, folks. Witnesses in Russia's Ural Mountains region report hearing and feeling a powerful blast from above, followed by bright, burning objects falling from the sky. Just amazing pictures here. Buildings shook, cell phone service interrupted. Most injuries caused by broken glass. And 22 people right now still in the hospital.

And if that is not enough, there's an asteroid headed to earth at this very hour. No worries, though. Scientists are sure this one will not hit us, the 150-foot wide space rock known as 2012DA14, expected to come within 17,200 miles within our plan let afternoon. The space rock is not visible to the naked eye. The best chance to see it with a telescope at about 2:44 eastern this afternoon when the asteroid passes over the Indian Ocean traveling at nearly 18,000 miles per hour.

More big news overnight. South African Olympic star Oscar Pistorius broke down in a Pretoria courtroom just a short while ago as murder charges against him were announced. This stunning development in the case, Pistorius, known as "Blade Runner," was charged with premeditated murder in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. A bail hearing for Pistorius has been postponed until next Tuesday. He remains in custody right now. Coming up in just a few minutes, we'll hear from a CNN reporter in the courtroom today in Pretoria.

Just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in. We're talking about Leon Panetta. He will remain on the job for defense secretary a little while longer. Senate Republicans have delayed a vote on Chuck Hagel to replace him for another ten days, using an unprecedented filibuster to block Hagel's nomination, unprecedented for defense nominee. President Obama says they are putting politics ahead of national security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with allies to make sure our troops are getting the kind of strategy and mission they deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Meantime, the president returns home to Chicago today for the last in a series of campaign style events. This week they are focused for plans on the economy and education that he outlined in the state of the union address. Gun violence will also on the agenda when the president speaks to a Chicago high school.

CNN's Dan Lothian live at the White House with a preview. This is a homecoming of sorts, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president will be speaking at Hyde Park Academy, and as you pointed out. The main focus will be the economy. But the president will be talking about gun violence in a city that last year had almost 2,500 shootings and more than 500 murders. And, of course, you have the recent high-profile murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, whose parents attended the state of the union address. Aides tell me the president will talk about creating economic opportunities, so that young people will not turn to a life of crime. But he will also continue to put pressure on Congress to take action, such as the universal background checks or the ban on some assault weapons and those high capacity magazines.

But there is great resistance from gun rights groups like the NRA who are concerned about their Second Amendment rights. They believe that officials need to start enforcing existing laws instead of creating new ones. John?

BERMAN: All right, thanks a lot, Dan Lothian at the White House this morning.

And there was no comment from the White House this morning on a verbal blast from NRA leader Wayne LaPierre. He accuses the president of exploiting the Sandy Hook tragedy to roll back Second Amendment right. LaPierre says gun rights activists won't take this lying down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA PRESIDENT: Mr. President, we will stand and fight throughout this country as Americans for all freedom. We promise you that.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So in an op-ed yesterday, LaPierre said it is not paranoia to buy a gun. He calls it survival.

No doubt about it now, the charred human remains found in a burned-out condo are Christopher Dorner's. Dental records confirmed with authorities in San Bernardino, California believe. They did not say how he died, however. Dorner was the fired Los Angeles cop accused of killing four people The manhunt ended the Tuesday with a shoot-out and fire in the mountains east of Los Angeles.

So breaking down in court, crying and shaking uncontrollably. New overnight, Olympian Oscar Pistorius appears before a judge, and the charges of murder just got worse for him. We'll go live to South Africa next.

And how does a food fight send at least five people to the hospital, to the hospital, folks? The chaos that erupted in a high school cafeteria, we'll have that coming up too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: A stunning development this morning. Olympian blade runner, Oscar Pistorius will be charged with premeditated murder in the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He broke down in a courtroom in Pretoria, South Africa just a short while ago as he was being charged. Pistorius will remain in jail until a bail hearing set for next Tuesday. Reminder, he is a major international star, even bigger star in South Africa. CNN Robyn Curnow was in the courtroom as these charges against Pistorius were being read. Must have been stunning to see.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I'm outside the courtroom now. And Oscar's brother walked past us, tears in his eyes. Walking with the legal team. This is a family that's very much in shock. Of course, also Reeva Steenkamp, the girl shot by Oscar, allegedly on Valentine's Day morning also said to be deeply distraught by the events. What happened inside this courtroom this morning, very emotional. Very upsetting for everybody who watched it. Oscar Pistorius, a spectacular fall from grace. He was wearing a gray suit, he walked from the holding cell into court, and when the charge was read out, he literally broke down, he buried his head in his hand and just started sobbing uncontrollably. Later on as the proceedings went on, as the magistrate spoke to the prosecutor and to the defense, Oscar just sat there, his head bowed. He was trying to control himself physically, but you could see his body was still shaking uncontrollably. He occasionally just started crying, sometimes you could see he was praying to himself. I mean this is a man who is really coming to terms with the enormity of what is facing him and how much he's lost.

BERMAN: Again, the big news this morning, not just charged with murder, but charged with premeditated murder. One of the other things that's been so interesting about the case, police mentioning previous incidents of a domestic nature. What more do we know about that, robin?

CURNOW: They hinted at that in a press conference, just the other day. Now, there have been -- there was another incident in 2009, where a woman later charged with assault against Oscar, that was thrown out of court for lack of evidence, and Oscar himself told me after that incident that this had been a drunk lady who tried to get into his house. He closed the door. And a piece of the door had fallen on her. Whether that is the only evidence in terms of a domestic incident that the police have or whether they think that there are other circumstances that could add to their case, clearly they do, because they are feeling confident that they can charge him with premeditated murder. They feel they have a strong case against him, which is, of course, is really bad news for those who support Oscar Pistorius.

BERMAN: Again, some reports are neighbors saying shouts in the house before the shooting happened, a day and a half ago. Robin Curnow, in South Africa thank you very much.

Meanwhile, the Triumph's cruise from hell is finally over. But what now? Is an apology enough, or is there more trouble on the way for carnival?

Big changes for people carrying around pot in New York City. Why police are getting a bit more lenient.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Brand new this morning, a joyous event at the San Francisco zoo. A Sumatran tiger has given birth to a cub. I'm Ron Burgundy (ph). Zoo officials say the tiger is considered a critically endangered subspecies. As few as 400 thought to be living in the wild. The cub appears to be healthy and mother and baby bonding right now. That's very nice.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg will not seek re-election next year for a sixth term. At 89, he's the oldest current senator and last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate right now. His decision opens the door for Newark mayor Cory Booker who has said that he wants to run for the seat next year.

Washington Redkins general manager John Allen says despite criticism, they have no plans to change the NFL team's nickname. Allen says the organization is proud of its history and sees nothing offensive about the name "Redskins." A lot of people disagree. Let's go to Christine now who has a look at today's business news.

ROMANS: "Mind Your Business" this morning, a critical moment for Carnival management. How well will it manage its public image right now? Carnival Cruise CEO Gerry Cahill quick to apologize.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: I can assure you, there was an apology. It wasn't just that. All right. Carnival also offering refunds, cash, a flight home, credit on a future trip, Cahill said he went on the ship to personally apologize to passengers as well. Cahill's pay package, we always look at the pay package at times like this don't we? We're at 3.7 million in 2011. It's a PR nightmare that he will earn every penny of that pay this year, but Wall Street taking it in stride.

Shares took a big hit on Wednesday and have stabilized since then. And Analysts that we've talked to, John, aren't too worried. They think people will want to keep booking cruises this is one of the most affordable ways for a lot of families to go on a trip like this as for possible lawsuits, Carnival customers, when they buy their ticket they sign a host of waivers, including one that precludes a class action suit as well. So watch this space (ph).

On Wall Street stock futures indicate a lower open. The Dow within shouting distance of an all-time high. It just can't seem to get there, largely because of concerns about the economy. Most S&P 500 companies that have reported quarterly earnings have beaten expectations but they've issued weak outlooks.

And the other big story we're watching. Airbus is ditching plans to use lithium ion batteries in its new A-350 plane. That battery is the one used in Boeing's Dreamliner, all those planes, those dreamliners, are now grounded after a series of electrical issues, investigators haven't figured out the primary cause of the problem, but Airbus not taking problems.

BERMAN: That is really interesting. It will be interesting to see if Boeing abandons those batteries and tries to reconstruct them somehow. All right, Christine Romans, thank you very much.

Overnight meteor shower rains down, shattering glass, injuring at least 500 people. Amazing video and new developments on the fireball from the skies. We will be liive from Russia.

People from that cruise ship are back on land, do they have grounds to sue? We're going to talk to a maritime legal expert next.

More than 300 people involved in a food fight, a food fight, that sent students and teachers to the hospital. What caused this riot? That next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: New developing story overnight. Amazing pictures as a meteor shower injuring 500 people when it blew through the sky in Russia's Ural Mountain region.